Ethics of selling

Sven O Kullander sven.kullander at NRM.SE
Wed Mar 8 23:05:35 CST 2000

At 16:18 08 03 00 -0500, Christian Thompson wrote:
>I FULLY AGREE, but we are not talking about PERSONAL GAIN. Never have,
>never will, but are talking about support for Science, the community, etc.

Too deep for me. I would not trust exactly that community. And I still
don't see how Science, the community, etc. can punch out a USD 50 000 bill
for a species, when the nearest basement taxonomist can do ten species for
half that punch.

>Maybe in Sweden, but not in USA and most countries* I know. Society is no
>longer supporting museums so scientists can provide free services. If the
>service doesn't pay, they cut it off.  In the last 10 years we have lost
>half our scientific positions. So, I see the University approach of seeking
>endowed chairs "through naming opportunities" as an ethical (but perhaps
>unrealistic) means to ensure that there will be systematists in the next
>generation. So, my argument is with those who do sell names for a mere $500
>or $3000. We need lots more and long-term funding.

The system is still working, why, probably because museums never paid
enough anyway. Why am I writing this at 10 pm on a vacation day? (... so
this is the last for today). There is a cut of systematists in the northern
hemisphere, but likely an increase in the southern hemisphere?

We still have a wide variety of other competences and properties suitable
for fund raising. Also I am not sure that we own the specimens/species to
any extent that would permit us to put them on sale. At least for past
collections, they were made and deposited in museums with the understanding
that they would not be commercialized, allowing for some exceptions. The
people and conditions involved may make any sale of names unethical.

Aside from that, I agree. However, commercialization may work in the US,
with the particular taxation system. It may not work elsewhere because tax
deduction rules for endowments are different, and the non-US world is much
bigger. If we talk about Science, the community, etc., it is presumably
mostly that bigger part?

>*Obviously if Germany was supporting its systematists and museums, then
>BIOPAT would never have arisen! Biopat isn't about systematists making money
>for themselves, but for their science and conservation.

This seems highly doubtful. There is no evidence that any conservation of
interest benefits from BioPat activities, but I refrain from commenting too
much on BioPat here. The contribution that BioPat makes to conservation
must be about minimal. The real benefit to conservation in tropical
countries instead would be facilities for trained systematists to carry out
their work without unnecessary costs, and that means improved access to
specimens, faster publication, more training of students on a global scale,
and more capacity building in biodiversity-rich countries. Not turning
check-lists into price-lists. There are numerous other, not-for-profit
organisations and committees working under the CBD and CHM to provide
support for traditional taxonomy and museum and their employment in global
biodiversity studies. There must be numerous alternative strategies to
cataloguing the world's biota, and the traditional museum systematist may
very well be history soon (hope students do not read this...).
Commercializing an old nomenclature system under the pretext of
conservation is not a new or innovative road, it is just giving systematics
a bad look as being concerned with naming species after people and
primarily doing it for money.

The avenue taken by BioPat is impossible because it increases overall costs
and reduces quality and efficiency. If one charges, all others have to
follow. It will need more regulations so that species can be really
patented (bye bye ICZN), and taxonomic descriptions will become a task of
those who do it quicker and cheaper.

>I don't believe any
>systematist who has named a species for "support," of whatever kind, was
>doing it for personal gain. Yes, once the British Museum paid Francis Walker
>per the number of new species he described and he responded by describing
>too many. But that was short-sighted administrators like the ones we have
>today which pay us by the number of papers we publish!

I know quite a few cases in ichthyology, but certainly it is mostly persons
without training who name species for little money and in grey journals.
But, I agree that the difficulties administrators have in evaluating our
activities is a significant part of the problem.

Finally, systematics is much more than describing new species, and even
less naming them after people. Since obviously non-systematists will take
care of the commercialisation, selling species will not solve the problem
of funding systematics.

Sven O Kullander

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